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  • Landscapes of Inequity: Environmental Justice in the Andes-Amazon Region ed. by Nicholas A. Robins and Barbara J. Fraser
  • Aaron Groth
Nicholas A. Robins and Barbara J. Fraser (Eds.)
Landscapes of Inequity: Environmental Justice in the Andes-Amazon Region.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2020. xxxi + 347 pp. Maps, tables, notes, references, and index. $65.00 cloth (ISBN 978-1-4962-0802-6); $65.00 eBook (PDF) (ISBN 978-1-4962-2141-4); $65.00 eBook (ISBN 978-1-4962-2139-1).

For those captivated by the andes-Amazon region’s biological and cultural diversity and are alarmed by multiple threats posed by extractive activities and infrastructure projects to its people and landscapes, this venerable volume constitutes an essential addition. Since Francisco Pizzaro’s conquest of Peru and Francisco de Orellana’s first descent of the Amazon from Quito, the region has endured successive waves of boom-and-bust cycles. Colonial governments and modern states attracted capital and promoted extraction of natural resources and production of commodities, while wealth generated was (and is) removed from the places of extraction and production to regional elites, far away capitals, and financial centers such as London and New York. These legacies of uneven development, persistence of inequality and land concentration, environmental contamination, usurpation of Indigenous territory, infrastructure projects, and extractive industries, directly impact the health, land uses, and livelihoods of communities across the region, as well as cultural identity. The editors and contributors offer evolving definitions of environmental justice, provide political context for the region, and frame environmental justice in multiple, site-specific contexts.

Despite Andean-Amazon region countries’ status as signatories of International Labor Agreement 169, Indigenous (and other) communities are not systematically included in infrastructure and resource extraction planning. From Andean summits to lowland tropical forests, a variety of actors, confront and contest government agencies, large and powerful economic interests, and respond to development projects that have failed to include their input or consent. In addition, states, private industries, and organized crime syndicates target environmental defenders with physical threats, assault, targeted assassinations, criminalization of protest, extra-judicial killings, and judicial harassment.

Hundreds of years of violence, disease, exploitation, repeated encroachment upon and attempts at privatization of community lands have not succeeded in eliminating community property. Governments across the region, as modern authoritarian, neoliberal, or pluri-national states have sought to make Indigenous and rural communities invisible (by legal instrument or cartographic omission) in order to facilitate [End Page 198] extraction. Richard Chase Smith, in We Are Here: The State of Community-Based Landscapes in Peru, showcases the efforts of the Common Good Institute (IBC), partners, and communities in the mapping and titling of community lands. While about one half of Peru is titled as peasant or native communities, the government controls and regulates rights to the subsoil, timber resources, and carbon. Planned mining, oil, gas, and timber concessions are superimposed on existing communities or communities still in the process of titling their land claims. Across the region, communities play a key role in forest protection and biodiversity conservation. However, employment opportunities are often concentrated in the exact extractive activities and commodities production that threaten community health, land uses, and livelihoods.

Processes unleashed by the colonization of the Andes include demographic collapse of Indigenous populations, their forced resettlement into reducciones, and the dreaded mita–including corvée labor for mining centers. Nicholas Robins’ chapter, A Toxic Reckoning: Legacy Contamination in Huancavelica, Peru highlights colonial and modern Peru’s extraction of cinnabar and processing of mercury. Huancavelica produced mercury for the amalgamation processing of silver deposits in Potosí, Cerro de Pasco, and other mining centers. Cumulatively, successive mining and smelting, since the colonial period, has resulted in contamination of air, soil, and water, causing acute impacts on human health for the residents of several Andean cities (e.g., Huancavelica, Cerro de Pasco, La Oroya, Oruro, and Potosí). According to Robins, the Peruvian state, in failing to recognize and remediate sites contaminated during the colonial period in Huancavelica, practices a process of “invisibilization” of an entire city (p. 23). If the contamination does not legally exist, the Peruvian state bears no responsibility for cleanup. In addition to national and...